Hidden behind an unassuming brick facade just off of Nike’s sprawling Beaverton, Oregon campus, Nike’s AIR Manufacturing Innovation (AMI) is one of the company’s best-kept secrets—and for good reason. For over 35 years, Nike’s patented AIR technology has evolved and been manufactured within these walls. The Beaverton facility’s output is aided by another location in St. Louis, Missouri. Together both factories have quietly made over 3.5 billion Nike AIR sole units.
We got an exclusive look inside the AMI in Beaverton, and were instantly wowed at the sheer amount of production that happens inside. Factory visits may be the type of thing blogs would foam at the mouth to cover a decade ago, but a look inside one of Nike’s most closely guarded facilities is definitely something we’re pleased to unveil.
First, some history. Nike’s signature AIR technology was invented by NASA engineer Frank Rudy in the late ’60s. Originally intended to make ski boots more comfortable, by 1978 Rudy’s AIR sole made its debut on the Nike Tailwind, and it’s evolved incredibly since. AMI focuses on several distinct types of AIR bags, ranging from the Max, Zoom and Tuned Air technologies, to the new VaporMax AIR bag.
The VaporMax sole is a complicated beast, composed of approximately 39,000 parts—more than a high-powered car engine. To bring these ideas from concept to execution, AMI employs more than 140 innovation and engineering experts, and eight PhDs—boasting the footwear and apparel industry’s highest concentration of such professionals.
Each sole is inflated in custom-made machinery, and a rigorous inspection process culminates with a tester called a “Kim” machine, named after Frank Rudy’s daughter. The machine subjects each sole to the equivalent of 400 miles of running, ensuring they live up to Nike’s exacting standards.
What happens to the AIR bags that don’t make the initial cut? They’re actually reground and made into new ones, giving them a second chance to end up on someone’s feet. As a result of this sustainable practice, 90% of AMI’s waste is recycled and reused.
Aiding AMI’s team of specialists is a workforce of thousands, responsible for observing the manufacturing process every step of the way. And Nike plans to amp up their production facilities, growing from 400,000 sq. ft. to an estimated 550,000 sq. ft. by 2018.
In addition to the photos above, Nike has also released a video giving people an exclusive look at the inner workings of AMI. Peep that below.
For a closer look at the upcoming VaporMax shoe and release information, check out our post on the upcoming “OG” colorway. Subscribe to Highsnobiety’s sneaker chatbot on Facebook to receive lightning quick updates on release dates, sneaker street style, shopping tips and more.